With the excitement of chasing the very first whitetail of the season long gone, and the highlight of the rut now passed, comes the last chance to secure the elusive buck. Though you’ll spot far fewer deer during the winter months, by now the competition for snagging those deer that are left will also be far less. Only the most relentless of hunters will be willing to brave the bitter sub-zero temperatures and fresh powder blanketing the woods. The biting cold may keep many hunters away, but it also brings the remaining bucks out into the forest for any trace of food they can find. Late-season hunting certainly has extra challenges, but with the right plan, you may finally tag the deer you’ve been after.
Follow these five tips to make winter whitetail hunting a success.
1. Find Carbohydrate Food Sources
Even though winter hunting doesn’t necessarily sound like the ideal time to hunt (baby, it’s cold out there), those last weeks can actually be some of the best. And sometimes, the colder the better. Why? Because surviving those cold snaps means whitetails have to get out to get their fill of carbohydrates. Though most of their time has shifted to rest by now, they still need to eat. This means that bedding areas will likely be made near easily accessible high-carb food sources. If you can find those, it won’t be long before you spot your target – because hunger means a deer is much more likely to be out in the daylight hours they are known to avoid. Targeting areas of crop grains such as corn and soybeans, as well as forbs, are your best bet.
2. Crowd Bedding Areas
When winter draws in and the days get shorter and colder, a deer’s ratio of activity to rest leans more and more toward rest and staying warm. What this means for late-season hunters is that deer are less available since they are bedded the majority of the time. But there is still a small portion of the day where they will need to come out to forage. Executing a plan that includes sitting close to or glassing bedding areas and knowing entry and exit routes are key. Since the main reason for a deer to be out at this time is to eat, tracks will likely indicate exactly where the deer are eating and sleeping. Zeroing in on those areas and hovering close to them means you just may be going home with a buck in hand after all.
3. Where’s the water?
Besides food and shelter, water is the other lifeline deer rely on. An abundance of water sources in earlier months doesn’t make staking them out as successful of a tactic. But in the winter, especially in areas with consistent sub-freezing temperatures, many water sources deer have relied on the rest of the year have now frozen over. The fewer accessible water sources there are, the easier it will be for a hunter to spot a deer right out in the open. Since water is a desperate need, even the most elusive and cunning deer may make a wrong move to quench their thirst.
4. Follow a Still-Hunting Tactic
Instead of stump-sitting in the same spot year after year, in the winter, sometimes a more aggressive approach is necessary. Patience is key when it comes to this hunting tactic because it requires the hunter to move slowly through the woods. Glassing is also an essential skill for winter hunters to master in order to keep their eyes on bedded areas as well as tracks towards food and water sources as they move about. Though spotting a whitetail during winter is far from easy, the right combination of patience and strategy will be the ticket to tagging a deer before the season’s end.
5. Have the Proper Gear to Stay Out All Day
Winter hunting is certainly not for the faint of heart. You could have all your best spots scouted out: high-carb food sources, a prime water source, and bedded areas and still need to spend a large portion of your day sitting and waiting. With as much as 90% of their day spent resting, there is only a small fraction of the day where you will actually see deer out covering ground to get their needs met. This takes a lot of patience and means you have to be willing to remain steadfast through uncomfortable temperatures. Here are just a few gear essentials to get you through those bitter cold days of hunting:
- Satellite Phone such as the Iridium 9575 Extreme or Iridium 9555 – Braving the cold also means staying smart. Since you’re going to be out for hours and hours in freezing temperatures, you need to stay in contact. Having a satellite phone means you have a 24/7 connection without having to leave your post.
- Extreme Weather Parka – Keeping your core warm and insulated is the only way you’re going to get through the coldest days without throwing in the towel. Look for other necessary features such as a hood and handwarmer pockets.
- Gore-Tex Bibs or Pants – Outlasting the competition means reducing the chance for heat loss and also keeping any moisture off your skin. Having waterproof pants is a necessity.
- Balaclava – This offers full facial protection. Withstanding harsh temperatures means having as little as possible skin exposure. A balaclava allows for coverage of skin that’s usually forgotten.
Snow and cold doesn’t mean your whitetail hunting has to be over. Using these tips will ensure you can keep the hunt alive all winter long.